Northwest Beer Guide: British Columbia Beer Guide: 2015: Spend a weekend in Victoria

Since 1984, the city of Victoria has grown from 3 founding breweries, to 10 within walking distance of the city center. Due to provincial law, most breweries operate tasting rooms with the options of takeaway growlers (2 liters of beer) or (750ml) bottles. This hasn't stopped cities like Victoria from supporting multiple breweries. Some say the city of Victoria has the most per capita breweries of any city in Canada. Of all the breweries worthy of your attention, Spinnaker’s Gastro Brewpub & GuestHouses should be first on your list.

Started in 1984, by John Mitchell and Frank Appleton, Spinnakers is Victoria's first brewpub. If the name John Mitchell or Frank Appleton ring a bell, it's due in part to their 1st collaboration near Horseshoe Bay - Horseshoe Brewery.

As a relative alien to Victoria, we took the opportunity to visit Victoria for Victoria Beer Week, which is held the 1st week in March. Getting there and where to stay were first on our list. With those things in mind here are some suggestions. Spoiler alert! We took the Victoria Clipper from Seattle to Victoria and stayed at Swans Brewpub & Hotel

If your traveling through the Pacific Northwest, there isn't an inexpensive solution to get to Victoria. Fortunately there are several modes of transportation to choose from. Some are quick (but expensive) while others are cheaper (but require a longer travel time). Rather than list the preferred method, we will outline the pros and cons from each mode of travel.

image Copyright of our Flickr account

Flying via domestic airline or seaplane
Pros. Fastest travel option
Cons. Most expensive transportation option.

  • Vancouver to Victoria:
    • 25 minutes average flight time (via West Jet or Air Canada). Contact a local travel agent or visit a travel website for pricing and availability.
    • 35 minutes average flight time via Harbour Air; contact Harbour Air directly for pricing and reservations
  • Seattle to Victoria:
    • 40 minutes average flight time (via Alaskan Airlines, Air Canada, Delta, or United Airlines); contact a local travel agent or visit a travel website for pricing and availability
    • 45 minutes average flight time via Kenmore Air; contact Kenmore Air directly for pricing and reservations

Regional bus service.

Pros. Cheaper travel option.
Cons. Longest time to travel.

  • Average drive time from Downtown Vancouver to  Downtown Victoria, including ferry transportation, 4 hours (via Pacific Coach and Cross Water) Cost for a roundtrip is $80

Ferry

Pros. Traveling with your car, shorter travel time than bus.
Cons. Travel Time is longer than a flight, may require greater driving distance to reach ferry.

  • Vancouver to Sidney:1h35m average travel time via BC Ferries; contact BC Ferries for rates and reservations.
  • Port Angeles to Victoria: 90m average travel time via M.V. Coho Black Ball Ferry Line; contact BC Ferries for rates and reservations.
  • Seattle to Victoria: 2h45m average travel time via Clipper Vacations; contact Clipper Vacations for reservations and costs.
  • Anacortes to Victoria: Depending on the time of the year, your trip will be around 2h45m. For more information visit the Washington State Department of Transportation's Ferries Schedule.

Accommodations *beer-related

Swans Hotel & Brewpub

Pros. Rooms with lofts, dedicated water heaters, functional kitchens, (limited number of) pet friendly rooms, brewery (and restaurant) downstairs, located near city center, and within walking distance of nearby breweries.

Cons. Variable rates based on season, rooms located above restaurant (with music sometimes till 1am), semi-thin walls.

Located in the heart of Victoria, walking distance to museums, shopping and restaurants this lovely hotel and brewpub is proudly owned by the University of Victoria.  Swans Hotel has 30 beautifully appointed suites with spacious fully equipped kitchens.

Many suites feature two story lofts accommodating up to six adults.  Perfect for corporate travelers or leisure travelers including families. Swans Hotel and Brewpub also offers a variety of function spaces for events.
Our stunning penthouse is perfect for weddings, business receptions, and parties.  The Saffron room features an open-concept kitchen and restaurant seating perfect for receptions, dinners and weddings. Buckerfields, just off the pub, is ideal for small meetings, cocktail parties and private dinners.

Spinnaker’s Gastro Brewpub & GuestHouses

Pros. Individual guest houses, family suites, pet friendly rooms, great views of the harbor, brewery and restaurant nearby.

Cons. Limited availability, further away from the city center

In the late 1990s, Charlie Middleton, who ran a woodworking shop called Tools and Space out of the building near the corner, now occupied by the TREK Store, called to tell us that Mrs. Nugent, the elderly lady who had lived in the heritage registry house next door, was moving out. He went on to suggest that we should buy the house and turn it into a B&B. As we had a regular patron who ran a 5 star B&B across the harbour, we were able to tap into his insights over a few pints and the idea for the guesthouses was born. [read more]

For additional accommodations, please visit Tourism Victoria.


Breweries

With the founding of Spinnaker’s Gastro Brewpub, the city of Victoria has enjoyed a managed growth of breweries near the city center. In most cases, we found the breweries to be fairly concentrated near one another. In one case the breweries were located within yelling distance of each other.

Regrettably we only had the weekend to visit as many breweries as we could, and all on foot. As there will be some omissions, this isn’t a reflection of the breweries deserving of your attention.

Friday Afternoon. Canoe Brewpub, Spinnaker’s Gastro Brewpub, Moon Under Water.

After checking into our hotel, we stopped into a nearby eatery (The Drake Eatery), conveniently located across from Swan’s Hotel, Brewpub & Brewery. We’ll discuss the food and drink from this spot later.

Stop No. 1 – Canoe Brewpub, located at 450 Swift Street. Established 1996

Open from 11am to 11pm, the Canoe Brewpub (officially known as Canoe Brewpub, Marina, and Restaurant) was opened in 1996 by founding brewer Sean Hoyne. Sean would remain at the brewery from 1996 thru 2011. After Sean’s departure, Australian ex-pat Daniel Murphy has resumed brewing duties. Today you can stop by and enjoy a pint of Daniel’s evolving India Pale Ale (recently with Southern Cross hops),

CANOE handcrafted beers are brewed in small batches using only the finest malted barley, hops, yeast and water. They are naturally carbonated, unfiltered and created without the use of additives or preservatives.

Our beers have become legendary in Victoria and throughout the Pacific Northwest for their crisp, clean & pure flavours. We encourage you to try a fleet to experience the full range of our crafted offerings.

  • Beers available annually; Red Canoe Lager, Beaver Brown Ale, Siren’s Pale Ale, & India Pale Ale.

Our experience. During our visit the brewery was in the midst of preparing for a private party. But we did manage to sample several beers prior to the location closing down for the event.

Our Picks. Southern Cross India Pale Ale & Let ‘Er Run Espresso Stout

Walking on foot? Canoe Brewpub, is only a few blocks from Swan’s Hotel and a 20 minute walk to/from Spinnaker’s Gastro Brewpub.

Stop No. 2 – Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub & Guesthouse, located at 308 Catherine Street. Established 1984

Open from 8am to 11pm, Spinnaker was started in 1984 by John Mitchell, Ray Ginnever, and Frank Appleton; today the head brewer is Tommie Grant. If you happen to swing by (on weekdays) after 4pm, you’ll be treated to a rare cask beer on the bar as well as a chance to meet current owner Paul Hadfield.

  • Beers available (year-long) include; Original Pale Ale, Tour de Victoria Kolsch, Northwest Ale, Blue Bridge Double Pale Ale, Lion’s Head Cascadia Dark Ale, Nut Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, Mitchell’s Extra Special Bitter, Jolly Hopper Imperial IPA, Dragonfly Rye Saison, India Session Ale

Our experience. During our visit, the brewery featured numerous “real” ales. Included in that list were Mitchell’s Extra Special Bitter, Titanic Strong Stout, Jolly Hopper Imperial IPA, and Kraken Amber Ale.

Our Picks. Titanic Strong Stout and Jamesons Scottish Ale.

Walking on foot? Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub is 20 minutes away (on foot) to/from Canoe Brewpub and 15 minutes from Moon Under Water Brewpub.

Stop No 3. – Moon Under Water Brewpub & Brewery, located at 350 Bay Street. Established in 2010

Founded in 2010, the brewery and pub opened it’s doors in February that year. Co-owned by Don and Bonnie Bradley, the brewery’s (then) interior design took cues after a trip to England. Borrowing the title from George Orwell’s famous essay, the Bradley’s focused on promoting English-sytle Ales, brewed by their nephew Ron.

Many reviews later, the brewpub changed hands in 2012, with (current owners) Clay Potter, Chelsea Potter, Steve Ash and Anne Farmer, managing both the pub and the brewery. Today the brewery produces mostly lagers and occasionally can be caught brewing an ale or two, from their 10 hectoliter brewhouse.

Historians might recognize Clay Potter from his years of service in the brewing industry. Starting in 2007, Clay worked at Lighthouse Brewing Company (as a microbiologist till 2010), before moving onto Turning Point Brewery (a subsidiary of the Mark Anthony Group) as one of their many shift brewers; all before taking ownership of his brewery (in September 2012).

image of Clay Potter, Copyright via our Flickr account

Our experience. During our visit a nearby brewery (Gladstone) was celebrating their inaugural brewery night in Moon Under Water. Making the best of the situation we ordered 3 of the Gladstone beers before ordering a pint of Creepy Uncle Dunkel (heavily suggested) and Hip As Funk Farmhouse IPA.

Overall the space has a sports bar kinda vibe, with an approachable kitchen menu.

Our Picks. Creepy Uncle Dunkel &  Hip As Funk Farmhouse IPA
Walking on foot? Moon Under Water is 15 minutes to/from Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub Canoe Brewpub, 20 minutes to/from Canoe Brewpub, and 25 minutes to/from Swan’s Hotel & Brewpub.

Last Stop – Nightcap at Swan’s Hotel & Brewpub

On top of providing a place to lay your head, the hotel hosts a restaurant and bar. Featured on draft or via a cask engine are nine distinct beers. As its head brewer (since 2003), Andrew Tessier. trained in Vancouver at Backwoods Brewing Co. before moving onto R&B Brewing Co. Then in 2001 he migrated to Halifax’s Propeller Brewing Co.; before taking the head brewer role at Swan’s.

  • Beers available (year-long) included; Apple Brown Ale, Arctic Kolsch, Berry Ale, Buckerfield’s ESB, India Pale Ale, Old Town Pilsner, Pandora Pale Ale, Riley’s Scotch Ale, & S.O.S. Swan’s Oatmeal Stout.

Our experience. Walking into the restaurant the first thing we learn is there isn’t really any assigned seating. Depending on personal choice you can either sit out in one two sun rooms, or inside the main dining area.
Sitting down we review the kitchen menu, which consists of everything from soups & salads, to sandwiches and the like. We eventually settled on a burger and a BLT. As for beers, the staff was friendly and willing to provide suggestions. In the end we settled on an India Pale Ale, SOS, and Appleton Brown ale.

Our Picks. India Pale Ale, S.O.S Swan’s Oatmeal Stout, & Appleton Brown Ale

Saturday Morning thru 4pm. Driftwood, Hoyne, & Phillips.

In the morning (after grabbing breakfast at John’s Place and coffee from Discovery Coffee) we made our way toward the first of three breweries.

image of Driftwood Brewing's taproom, Copyright via our Flickr account

Stop No. 1 – Driftwood Brewery, located at #102-450 Hillside Avenue. Established in 2008

Founded in 2008 and under the ownership of Kevin Hearsum & Jason Meyer, Driftwood Brewery has been a local favorite, ever since they opened their brewery. For Kevin and Jason this marks the 2nd time the duo has worked together, after meeting at Lighthouse Brewing. With a strong focus on creating unique, Belgian-style ales, the brewery also makes one of the more popular India Pale Ales in the area.

  • Beers available (year-round) include; New Growth Pale Ale, Farmhand Saison, White Bark Witbier, Crooked Coast Altbier, & Fat Tug IPA. Additionally, the brewery releases limited amounts of their Old Cellar Dweller Barleywine, Blackstone Porter, and Entangled Hopfenweisse

Our experience. Walking through the door, you immediately realize this is not a tasting room as there are no seats. In fact locals and tourists alike should anticipate purchasing bottles or growlers, in lieu of lounging at the brewery. To our luck, the brewery had just opened, which allowed for a 1:1 experience with their taproom employee.

Our Picks. Fat Tug India Pale Ale, Crook Coast Altbier, White Bark Witbier.

Walking on foot? Driftwood is less than 5 minutes from Hoyne Brewing Company, less than 30 minutes from Swan’s Hotel & Brewpub; and 15 minutes from Phillips Brewing Ltd.

Stop No. 2 – Hoyne Brewing, located at 2740 Bridge Street. Established in 2011

If you asked owner Sean Hoyne where he would be, back in 1989, he might’ve told you it involved a brewery. But that’s what happened, a short distance from Driftwood Brewery. Founded in 2011, Hoyne brewery is the total sum of Sean’s experience, while brewing at some the areas most famous brewhouses.

Shortly after answering an ad in a paper, Sean began brewing at Swans Hotel & Brewpub, after brewer Frank Appleton tried his homebrews. As it turns out the whole hiring process started off with Sean bringing a six-pack of his beer, before being offered the job. A coupe years later (1998), Sean moved onto brewing at Canoe Brewpub, before opening his own brewery in 2011.

  • Today Hoynes brews some 8 beers, including: Helios Dortmunder Golden Lager, Dark Matter, Hoyner Pilsner, Down Easy Pale Ale, Devil’s Dream IPA, Off the Grid, Voltage Espresso Stout, Wolf Vine, Gratitude, and Summer Haze Honey Hefe.

Our experience. Much like Driftwood Brewery, there is no room to sit down as a majority of the building’s space is occupied by the brewery. Walking in you are immediately greeted by a counter, a small bar with several beers, as well as merchandise and a cooler (stocked with Hoyne’s beers).

Our picks. Hoyners Pilsner &  Voltage Espresso Stout.

Walking on foot? Hoyne is less than 5 minutes from Driftwood, less than 30 minutes from Swan’s Hotel & Brewpub; and 15 minutes from Phillips Brewing Ltd.

Stop No. 3 – Phillips Brewing, located at 2010 Government Street. Established in 2001

Of all the breweries visited, Phillips offers a truly unique story on the struggles of brewing in British Columbia.

Started in 2001, Matt Phillips’ funded his dream, by filling out every credit card application he could get his hands on. Unfortunately this patchwork approach to managing a brewery didn’t stop with investments. In fact, if there was any brewery more deserving of success, it might be Philips.

As we walked around the city of Victoria we heard countless stories of Matt’s willingess to do whatever it took, to sell a keg. In the early days that meant spending long hours at the brewery, followed by long hours on the bus (hand-painting draft handles), before finally delivering a keg of beer to a nearby bar or brewpub.

As the story goes, hard work with some sweat equity eventually paid off, in the form of being a highly sought after brewery. Eventually Matt Phillips moved his small brewery operation onto Government to continue the expansion. This is the same location where their taproom is today.

Our experience. The first thing you notice about Phillips (when compared to the other two breweries) is available parking. Admittedly limited, there is off-street parking available.

As soon as you walk through the door you appreciate the amount of room Matt Phillips allocated for the gift shop and taproom. Although there are no seats, there are several flat surfaces where one can enjoy a sample after a brewery tour.

  • Beers available (year-round) include; Blue Buck, Hop Circle IPA, Bottle Rocket ISA, Slipstream Ale, Phoenix Gold Lager, Elsinore, Amnesiac Double IPA, Longboat Chocolate Porter, Hoperation Triple Cross, Double Dragon, Octofox India Pale Ale, and Ginger Beer.

Our picks. During our visit the brewery has most of the beers listed above available. Recognizing our inability to decided, paired with being tourists, the brewery offered up each beer to try. In the end we settled on Hop Circle IPA, Blue Buck, Octofox India Pale Ale, and Longboat Chocolate Porter.

Walking on foot? Phillips is less than 15 minutes from Driftwood and Hoyne Brewing and less than 15 minutes from Swan’s Hotel & Brewpub.

Last Stop – Nightcap at the Public Market for Victoria Beer Week’s “Opening Cask Night”
During our visit (March 7th, 2015) we had the pleasure of being guests of the Victoria Beer Week committee.

As part of their hospitality we mingled with visitors to and resident of Victoria for “Opening Cask Night”. As someone that has never visited Victoria, we can’t tell you how exciting it was to walk through the Public Market at night.

Throughout the evening we walked past various breweries, while enjoying 4oz samples from the following breweries;

  • Canoe Brewpub
  • Category 12 Brewing
  • Cumberland Brewing
  • Driftwood Brewery
  • Four Mile Brewing
  • Gladstone Brewing
  • Hoyne Brewing
  • Lighthouse Brewing
  • Longwood Brewing
  • The Moon Under Water Brewpub
  • Phillips Brewing
  • Red Arrow Brewing
  • Saltspring Island Ales
  • Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub
  • Swans Brewpub
  • Tofino Brewing
  • Vancouver Island Brewery
  • and Wolf Brewing.

Included in our admission was an opportunity to enjoy a small snack, to pair with our beers.

Our picks. For us it was no question thumbs up to Driftwood Brewery’s 2014 Old Cellar Dweller, Moon Under Water Currant as Fuck, Hoyne Spiced Espresso Stout, and Double Chocolate Porter from 4 Mile Brewing.

Sunday Morning. No breweries visited.

On the last day of our visit to Victoria, the morning began with a trip to “John’s Place” for an encore breakfast, before visiting nearby café “Habit”.

image Copyright via our Flickr account

Due to a scheduling snafu (or being too far to walk to) we missed an opportunity to visit the following breweries;

  • Vancouver Island Brewing
  • Lighthouse Brewing Co.
  • Four Mile Brewing Co.
  • Gladstone Brewing
  • Category 12 Brewing

Eateries (we visited)

Owing to the simple fact that you cannot consume alcohol on an empty stomach we visited the following places.

image of Drake's Lentil Sliders, Copyright via our Flickr account

The Drake Eatery, located at 517 Pandora Avenue and opened around early August 2014.

Most of our beer is made right here in Victoria, some just steps away. We also seek out unique and interesting offerings from slightly further afield, the line-up is always changing, come and see what’s on tap today.

Our service is British pub-style counter service. Come up to the bar to order and we’ll take care of you. If you’re ordering food, we’ll bring it out to you.

Known to most of our customers in Victoria as just “The Drake” we take pride in serving what we feel, is the best of local craft beers.

Menu

Our Experience. The Drake Eatery could be considered a beer drinkers gastrohouse, with its simple approach to food. During our visit we enjoyed the Roast Beef Cheese Steak, Two Cheese Stout Dip, and Sloppy Lentil Joes.

For the beer drinker, you won’t be disappointed; whether you enjoy a local (e.g. Philips or Driftwood), a regional (like Four Winds Tripel), or an import (like Deschutes Fresh Squeezed, Lagunitas IPA, or New Belgium Fat Tire). During our visit we enjoyed beers from Coal Harbor, Four Winds, Lighthouse, and Phillips.

Rebar, located at 50 Bastion Square.

Hailing from the mecca of progressive dining that is Portland, OR, Audrey Alsterberg arrived in Victoria in the mid-1980s to be greeted by a culinary draught. She immediately threw herself into the local food scene, working alongside other pioneering chefs to change the way Victoria dines. Inspired by her talented and fearless peers, Audrey soon caught the entrepreneurial spirit and decided to plant her own vibrant roots in the downtown core.

Menus

Our Experience. The first thing we advise doing is make reservations. Afterwards, understand that you will be assigned a table based on number of people in your party. Once you are seated you are entertained with a mostly vegetarian / vegan menu, with the option to add seafood to certain meals.

For us we enjoyed the Classic Almond Burger and 3 Sister’s Enchiladas. Overall the service was prompt, friendly, with the food arriving piping hot. Definitely a place to go to unwind after a day spent visiting breweries.

John’s Place, located at 723 Pandora Avenue. Established in 1984.

… We make everything from scratch including our herb bread, corn bread, banana bread, homemade pies, cheesecakes and all our salad dressings. When Food Network Canada was filming in November for our fall shoot we made our Southwestern Meatloaf,  Mile High Apple Pie, Belgian Waffles with our own cream cheese syrup and our best seller, Eggs Benedict with an authentic real butter hollandaise sauce and we had a blast doing it.

Menus

Our Experience. If you show up before 10 am, your wait time might be 5 minutes or 20 minutes (depending on how many people in your party). The hostess on the 1st and 2nd visits insisted on seating us at a 2 person table, as opposed to placing us where-ever.

During our first visit we tried the Country Fried Chicken (featuring moist, white, chicken meat), 1 Pancake (you’ll know why, if you order one) and an Omelet. During our 2nd visit we tried the Belgian Waffle with real maple syrup and an Eggs Benny “Classic”.

Service the 1st time was exceptional, even when the food arrived cold. The 2nd visit resulted in luke warm food, which was quickly replaced.

Definitely worth stopping into, prior to visiting many breweries.

Discovery Coffee, located at 664 Discovery Street.

Discovery Coffee is committed to quality on every level. The ever-changing global climate together with a constantly evolving industry means we are always moving forward and growing. Our beans have been cared for from seed to you, and with every step of the way we strive to better our processes in search of the perfect cup.

Our Experience. Walking through the single door, you are greeted by the counter, complimented with a garrison of donuts. Placing our order my coffee arrived in the order it was requested. Kudos to the interior designer and their use of sewing tables and local artwork.

Habit, located at 552 Pandora Avenue.

Habit was founded on the idea that coffee can be better – not just in terms of a drinkable product, but in terms of every step that coffee takes from seep to cup. Before ever building a location or making a menu, we worked hard to find partners that share our vision of ethical, responsible, and community-based business practices and a focus on quality in every detail.

Our Experience. Much like Discovery Coffee, this is another local business that does one thing right. Despite appearances, this not a hipster coffee house. Walk inside and place your order, while reviewing magazines and artwork on the walls, or listen to tunes echoing throughout the café.


Summary

If there’s anything negative to take away from our trip to Victoria, it would be the lack of time to visit every brewery.

We hope that our experience will assist you the next time you find yourself in Victoria.

Disclosures
In the interest of full disclosure, Swans Hotel provided us a 2nd floor accommodation. This included a view of the harbor (which was regrettably obfuscated by a dilapidated building), a functional kitchen, a loft space, and 2 bottles of beers. All this and the bathroom featured it's own water heater for long showers.

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